In an era "heavy" with statistical analysis, few boast more impressive numbers than Payne, whose documented 545 pound bench press and 635 pound squat perhaps say all one needs to know about why he is considered among the top prospects in the 2018 NFL draft.
Payne's weight room proficiency dates back to high school when he became a YouTube sensation by lifting 460 pounds back in 2014. He has since "raised the bar" nearly 100 pounds despite dropping his own weight, earning the trust of Nick Saban and his staff who asked him to slim down in an effort to better defend the up-tempo offenses so prevalent in today's college and pro football landscape.
A strongman like Payne would start immediately for most teams but Payne had to wait his turn alongside all of future draft picks at Alabama. He played in all 15 games as a true freshman, even starting against run-heavy offenses for Arkansas, Florida and LSU but recorded just 13 tackles the season, including a half tackle for loss while also contributing a forced fumble and a pass defensed.
Payne emerged as a fulltime starter at nose guard as a sophomore in 2016, recording 36 tackles, including a career-high 3.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks, scoring the first touchdown of his college career by recovering a fumble and rumbling into the end zone against Mississippi. He emerged as one of the key cogs in Alabama's vaunted run defense as the year went on, helping limit Florida to zero net rushing yards and recording back to back standout games against Washington (four tackles) and Clemson (five tackles) in the playoffs.
Payne earned Second Team All-SEC honors in 2017, recording a career-high 45 tackles over the regular season - 37 of which came against the run. He also recorded a sack, registered a team-high eight QB hurries, broke up two passes, recovered a fumble and saw time as a fullback on offense during Alabama's goal-line packages.
As his weight room proficiency, fire hydrant frame and statistics suggest, Payne's value lies in his ability to clog up interior running lanes. There is no flamboyancy or frills to his game. Teams in search of a classic run-plugger, however, will certainly value Payne's grit, dedication and ability to make an immediate impact.
Payne signed with the Crimson Tide over offers from Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Florida State and a host of others as the top-rated prep prospect out of the football-rich state of Alabama. He weighed as much as 350 pounds as a senior in high school. Payne did not miss a game due to injury during his three years at Alabama and has no known medical issues.
Payne possesses a body well-suited to winning the leverage battle, complete with broad shoulders and a thick lower half with tree trunks for legs. With his blocky frame and incredible weight-room strength, Payne is nearly immovable at the point of attack, utilizing quickness, balance and leg drive as well as upper body power to anchor. At times, he plays as if he is lifting weights on the bench press, knocking opponents back onto their heels with his initial punch and tossing them aside. For a big man, Payne shows impressive initial burst out of his stance as well as surprising quickness and effort in lateral and downfield pursuit. He possesses the strength in his hands to latch onto ball-carriers attempting to run past him, grabbing hold and slowing them enough to allow teammates time to clean up the tackle. While lacking the wiggle to ever be a consistent pass rush threat, Payne's powerful bull rush helps him collapse the pocket from the interior, leaving quarterbacks unable to step up and vulnerable to speed rushers flanking him. Though the statistics do not necessarily reflect it, Payne shows good awareness of passing lanes, getting his hands up in the air and timing jumps to affect quarterbacks' vision. - Rob Rang 12/9/2017
Payne offers just phone booth quickness, lacking the acceleration to be much of a threat - even against the run - outside of the tackle box. His thick frame and lack of ideal agility and flexibility make it tough for him to "get skinny" and split gaps to offer much more than a simple bull rush to threaten quarterbacks. Payne shows awareness of passing lanes but lacks the height, arm length and vertical leaping ability to tip many passes at the line of scrimmage and he has zero blocks over his three years at Alabama. -- Rob Rang 12/9/2017
COMPARES TO: Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy, Seahawks. A squatty frame, raw power and use of leverage to bottle up the run helped Kennedy earn a team-record eight Pro Bowls during his 11 years in Seattle despite the fact that he registered more than 6.5 sacks in a season only twice. Payne won't set sack records but his stout frame and awesome strength make him the 2018 draft's top run-plugger.
IN OUR VIEW: A wide-bodied run-stuffer with rare weight-room strength, the aptly-named Payne is Alabama's latest dominating defensive lineman, which in and of itself, means he will generate plenty of interest from the NFL.
Payne may lack the agility to ever develop into a consistent interior pass rush threat, which could put a cap on his draft stock. Payne's awesome power, no-nonsense style and track record of success, however, make him a relatively rare plug and play candidate whose high floor should earn him first round consideration.